Some residents displaced by Halifax-area wildfire allowed to return home

Some residents displaced by Halifax-area wildfire allowed to return home

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A Lucasville Road resident who was forced to leave his house because a wildfire in the Halifax area says it's "wonderful" to be back home.

"You don't realize until you're out of your home how nice it is to be in your home. I would just say every day out there, 'I want to go home, I want to go home.'  And then I thought about people that don't have a home to go back to. I feel sorry for those people," Perley Oliver told CBC News.

An alert issued just after 4 p.m. on Friday stated evacuation orders were partially rescinded for parts of Lucasville Road, St. George Boulevard and the Stillwater Lake area. Details on exact locations can be found here.

Crews battling the 950-hectare wildfire said lower temperatures and higher humidity on Friday were favourable for firefighting.

"Today has been a pretty good day," Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief David Meldrum told reporters in an update at 5 p.m. on Friday.

He said the "weather is giving us an ability to get on some fires here and dig some fires out."

Meldrum said the people who got the green light to go back home on Friday will not see any wildfire damage to their properties. He said they were told to leave initially as a safety precaution.

Oliver, who stayed with family in Dartmouth during the evacuation order, said he's most looking forward to sleeping in his own bed. He said he's thinking about the people who lost everything and have to start over.

"You don't miss your home until you're out of your home," Oliver said.

David Steeves, a technician of forest resources with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, said the wildfire grew to 950 hectares from Thursday's 837 hectares.

"We were able to keep it at 950 hectares from the sheer work of the firefighters in the field," Steeves said in the 5 p.m. update on Friday.

Steeves said containment was still at 50 per cent following a tough day of flare-ups Thursday at the wildfire that spans swaths of Upper Tantallon, Hammonds Plains and Pockwock, along with other fires that cropped up in the municipality.

Steeves said a new fire started in the Exhibition Park area on Friday and that three aircraft were headed there. He said a fire that cropped up on Farmers Dairy Lane earlier in the week is contained at four hectares.

On Friday, residents whose homes had been damaged or destroyed by the wildfire that continues to burn outside Halifax were given the chance to see their properties.

$2,500 one-time grant for small businesses

In a news briefing Friday at 3 p.m., Premier Tim Houston acknowledged the people who lost their homes.

"If the news is the worst-case scenario, I am so sorry," Houston said. "And for those waiting for information as to when you can get in your home, hopefully that's getting close. Rain would help."

Houston announced a one-time $2,500 grant for small businesses in the evacuation zones in the Halifax area and in Shelburne County.

He said the intention of the grant is to offset the cost of unanticipated business closures. The program is expected to cost $1.5 million and information on how to apply will be available soon.

The premier also applauded first responders for their hard work, and acknowledged the help coming from other provinces, the U.S. and Costa Rica. He noted there have been no deaths, no missing people and no injuries.

$25K fines in Cape Breton

On Friday, Cape Breton Regional Police issued two fines of $25,000 to Sydney homeowners under the province's burning ban.

Fire Chief Michael Seth said the incidents were relatively minor, but the woods are filled with tinder-dry debris left over from post-tropical storm Fiona.

"We're taking this seriously," he said. "Those minor fires can grow into being very, very large and we want to get the message out that burning is not cool and we're going to be actively enforcing this."

Seth said the department responded to 30 other nuisance fire calls since the ban was put in place three days ago.

There are no wildfires currently in CBRM, but Seth said it wouldn't take much to get one going and firefighting gear and personnel are putting their focus on the mainland right now.

In a release, police said a 57-year-old man received the first $25,000 fine in Sydney after firefighters were called to a residence on Hillside Street around 11:30 a.m.

No burn violation calls in HRM

At around 1:45 p.m., they were called to another home on Grants Lane, where a 43-year-old man was ticketed for burning garbage.

The provincial Forests Act was amended on Tuesday to increase the maximum fine to $25,000 for lighting a fire within 1,000 feet of woods during a fire ban. The fine also comes with more than $3,000 in costs.

In the same news briefing, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said there were no burn violation calls overnight.

"The message is getting out to people. That's a bit of good news," Savage said.

Savage said during an earlier interview with CBC News Network that it's no simple task matching up names with phone numbers and the addresses of homes that were destroyed in the Upper Tantallon area.

He said the municipality will be offering grief support to the affected families.

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The RCMP said Friday that 10 tickets have been issued across the province since 4 p.m. on Tuesday, including seven related to the ban on burning and three related to the ban on entering wooded areas.

Because the computers hadn't been updated, none of the tickets carried the new fine and were instead for the previous fine of $237.50. As of 11 a.m. Friday, the RCMP's computers were updated and anyone slapped with the fine could be penalized up to $25,000.

About 16,400 residents were forced from their homes at the height of the evacuations — stretching from Upper Tantallon to Sackville.

The federal government announced Thursday the Canadian Armed Forces will be providing support to help battle wildfires raging across Nova Scotia, including planning and co-ordination support, and firefighters and fire specialists to help control the blazes.

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Nova Scotia is offering a one-time payment of $500 per eligible household for those affected by the evacuation order. Residents can apply for that payment through the Canadian Red Cross.

Bill Lawlor of the Canadian Red Cross said 3,400 households in Nova Scotia had received the $500 — a total of $1.7 million — as of Friday.

Crews are investigating what started the initial fire in the Westwood Hills subdivision off Hammonds Plains Road — situated roughly 25 kilometres outside Halifax — but officials with the Natural Resources department have said it was likely human activity.

Nova Scotia RCMP have said officers are patrolling the affected neighbourhoods 24 hours a day to keep people who should not be there out. There have been no reports of looting or suspicious activity.

Evacuation areas

The municipality has said the evacuation zone could change, and if people need to leave, they should bring their pets, important documents and medication with them, as well as supplies for 72 hours.

People who live in the areas affected by the local state of emergency should have a bag packed and ready to go because they might need to leave on short notice.

Officials have said evacuees need to register with 311 so they can be notified if their property was damaged or destroyed. (Toll-free at 1-800-835-6428, 1-866-236-0020 for hearing impaired only line teletypewriter users).

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education says an update will be provided on Sunday evening about school closures for Monday.

Comfort centres

The Halifax Regional Municipality declared a local state of emergency Sunday night in order to access additional support.

Comfort centres have been opened at:

  • Black Point and Area Community Centre, 8579 St Margarets Bay Rd., will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 2.

  • Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre, 1583 Beaver Bank Rd., will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 2.

  • Canada Games Centre, 26 Thomas Raddall Dr., open 24 hours.

  • John W. Lindsay YMCA, 5640 Sackville St., Monday to Friday 5:45 a.m. to 10 p.m, Saturday and Sunday 7:45 a.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Community YMCA, 2269 Gottingen St., Halifax, Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A mobile primary health clinic will be available at the Canada Games comfort centre on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic will be able to provide care for non-urgent health issues, like prescription refills, minor respiratory symptoms, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and mental health and addiction support.